I sit at the fireside, still, at peace from the calm of the day. The children lie close by, tucked up warm, they dance through their dreams. They sleep as the turquoise skies and vivid greens fade to deep cobalt and viridian hues. The dusk descends bringing with it the noises of nighttime. The woods are alive now, the quiet of day replaced with the activity of a myriad of creatures. I am surrounded.
The light is fading fast. I stare at the flames, my only light, as the eerie owl-calls echo through the trees. Above, the birds of prey soar high scanning through the darkness, seeing clearly what I can only hear. I focus on the fire, its vermillion glow distracting me from the millions of eyes watching from the darkness. The flames rage high as cobalt skies fade to deep indigo. I ignore the cracking twigs, the rustling, the cries and search the flames, taking solace in their precious light. I shake away the shivers of childhood fears but the tingle of old nightmares bubbles low in the pit of my stomach.
I sit still, barely breathing, trying to calm my pounding heart. My rational brain left with the sun leaving space for doubt to creep in. The noises draw closer, braver as they explore their world. This is their time, I am but a visitor.
Keep focussing on the light. The fire fairies dance in skirts of scarlet and crimson on the blackened logs. Fiery fingers reach out to me, beseeching me to feed their hunger. The fire will soon die but to venture into this new land of unknown shadows quickens my heartbeat and keeps me rooted, just staring. The dancing fairies lie down to sleep on their glowing beds and the circle of light contracts. I lean in to stay in the glow, my face and outstretched hands feel the waning heat while icy shivers run down my back.
The indigo sky turns black and disappears. My world of vision shrinks to the dim crimson bubble that encircles my fire. I struggle to see my hand in front of me and dare not look back to the trees behind. This intense blackness is like nothing I have experienced before, the absence of all colour, terrifying and exhilarating, it consumes me.
And then all is silent. In this pitch darkness suddenly every creature, every bird stops. My heart pounds, the only sound in the whole woodland. This silence is more unnerving than the noise of the dusk hunters. All perceptions of time and space have vanished with the noise. I can not move yet I can not stay. I am alone in a void.
Then a cry. My heart leaps out of my chest and I struggle to steady my breathing. Another cry. This time I recognise the sleepy anguished voice of my littlest child. Relief tinged with dread. I rise from my seat to rescue her from her nightmares but first I must wrestle my own demons. I take a first tentative step into the darkness. My feet sink into the cool earth but I take another step. I am blind but my senses guide me, my need to comfort my child leads me through my own nightmare. Hands outstretched, cringing I inch forward, feeling my way, testing each step as if walking on thin ice. Another cry. I speed up. Something brushes past my leg, inwardly I scream but I have no sound. Branches catch me, the thorny brambles reach out to grab my ankles but I’m determined now. I have left the safety of my dwindling fire, I can only move forward. A spider’s web covers my face and I frantically brush it away, dreading to think where its owner is. I carry on brushing long after it has gone. This journey of a few metres seems stretched into miles by the black of night and my sense of time has faded into the darkness.
Finally I reach down and feel the damp cloth of the tent. My relief is a cool breeze that washes away my fears and soothes my beating heart. I fumble for the zip and crawl inside reaching for my child. I fold her into my arms, her skin warms my chilled lips as I kiss her fears away. I’m not sure if I comfort her or she comforts me but I cling to her small body till she relaxes once more to sleep. Gently I lay her down then turn to fasten up the tent, to lock out the night. I beat the demons but… Brave face on, I look back, the orange glow of my fire is so close yet my journey was irrationally long. And overhead, the blackness has receded to grey, I can just make out the silhouettes of tall trees against the lightening sky. As I lay down between the warm bodies of my children, the woodland awakes once more. I close my eyes and drift off to sleep to the sounds of their soft breathing and the first birdsong of dawn.
I have banished many nightmares and now I welcome the black of night like an old friend. I embrace the solitude, the sheer absence of colour and sound provide clarity in my thoughts. I take pleasure in walking through my woods in the blackest hour, allowing my senses to guide my steps. Without fear, this is a time of peace and tranquillity, to be enjoyed, not endured.